Reviewed by YTSL
This Stephen Chow offering, which has Gong
Li as its leading lady, was the top grossing local film at the Hong Kong
box offices in 1993. Raking in HK$40,171,033 in 28 days, it was only
financially outdone by "Jurassic Park", and left other works like "Fong
Sai Yuk", "The Bride with White Hair", "Once Upon a Time in China III",
"The Heroic Trio" and "Iron Monkey" trailing in its wake. IMHO though,
those less financially successful films which I've listed are better productions
and provide a more enjoyable viewing experience than what is -- according
to Paul Fonoroff (1998:315)-- but one more version of a Ming Dynasty comic
tale which was first put on celluloid back in the 1930s.
This is not at all to say that FLIRTING SCHOLAR
is completely bereft of laughter-inducing, and even quite inspired, sections.
For example, this (re)viewer loved the bits of the movie in which the main
character, a master painter, poet and musician (played of course by Stephen
Chow): Effectively turned his friend (played by Natalis Chan) into
a giant paintbrush and utilized the man's nipples to create painted impressions
of flowers, feet to paint clouds and mountains, and penis to imprint the
tongue of an eagle(!); and recited a rhythmic rap poem while accompanying
himself on percussion instruments fashioned from chopsticks, chinaware
and pieces of wooden furniture.
Another amusing scene is that in which the multi-talented
but -- at that point in the story -- sad scholar (who is alternately referred
to as Tong Pak Fu and Tong Yan), is obliged to make himself smile widely
to assure his widowed mother and eight incompatible wives that he is indeed
happy with his lot. Ditto re the one in which our hero uses his kungfu
skills to make his pulse have a musical beat in order to convince a doctor
that he is indeed not in the best of health. And even with my having
to rely on what must surely be spuriously translated English subtitles
to have some sense of what was being uttered, the distich -- what is that
really?! -- reciting duel between Stephen Chow and Vincent Kuk's characters
did come across as being rather funny.
So, why didn't I outright adore FLIRTING SCHOLAR?
One reason is that like many other Stephen Chow films I've seen, its story
-- which, boiled down to an essence, is about a man who looks like he has
everything in life needing one more thing, person really, to make him as
happy as most people think he already ought to be -- and source of gags
is too inconsistently all over the place for my liking. Another is
that Sing Jai's main co-star in this work is not charismatic enough to
enthrall me (And yes, I am referring to Gong Li here).
A third factor comes from its being so that despite
this effort's being graced by old school kungfu movie legends Cheng Pei
Pei (playing the formidable mistress of the household of which Gong Li's
Chen Heung character is a privileged maid, who also -- as luck would have
it -- turns out to be the woman Tong Pak Fu's father jilted in favor of
his mother) and Gordon Liu, much of the fight scenes in the film are of
the bad -- i.e., ungraceful and unbelievable as well as downright pedestrian
-- wire-fu variety. All in all, I'd go so far as to say that this
is the Stephen Chow film I've seen with the least strong -- and therefore
most by themselves unentertaining -- supporting cast I have seen (despite
its not being entirely made up of unknowns; what with James Wong, Lam Wei,
Leung Kar-yan, Francis Ng, Gabriel Wong and Yuen King Tan also being in
This is really a great pity because I actually
do think that Stephen Chow does give one of his most appealing performances
in FLIRTING SCHOLAR. If only the movie had featured more displays
of amazing artistic acts and cute lovestruck looks by its main man, fewer
soft-focus shots of Gong Li's face and allowed her to show more acting
ability than she managed to do here...Still, this is not to say that I
am unaware that some male viewers would disagree with this opinion of mine!
My rating for the film: 7.
Reviewed by Brian
I actually thought this film was consistently
funny and clever from beginning to end and there were a few occasions in
which I had tears running down my face because I was laughing so hard.
Chow's style of Mo-lau-tau comedy always plays well with me though - the
more incongruent and out of context the better as far as I am concerned.
I love a modernist comic sensibility mixed into period costume comedies.
Though there is a fairly solid if not particularly original plot here,
in many ways the film is really just a constant series of Chow routines
that come at you faster than a Nolan Ryan fastball. If that pitch was not
to your liking, another one will be headed your way in a second.
There are a few routines that fall flat with a
deafening thud - but I thought a very high percentage of the ones in this
film hit their target with the ease of a master archer. The one routine
in which Chow uses Natalis Chan like a human paint brush is one of the
cleverest criticisms I have seen of commercial art. Besides the other ones
that YTSL mentions, I also loved the "who is the most miserable person"
duel between two people wanting to sell themselves to bury their "loved"
ones, after being poisoned by one another both Chow and Cheng Pei Pei extolling
the virtues of their potion like commercial spokespersons on TV, Chow's
mahjong playing and drinking game wives and mother (Mimi Chu) hanging themselves
to gain face, the Four Scholars (look for Francis Ng in a small part) and
the ladyboy, the Four Perverted Thieves, Gong Li dancing merrily with the
poor folks, the sudden turns into Chinese Opera, the kick that can turn
a beautiful woman ugly and the antidote punch, and of course the final
scene in which Chow has to pick Gong Li from a large group of similarly
dressed women behind veils.
Amid all this rapid-fire series of jokes, pranks,
puns and pratfalls though lies a fairly sweet story of a man respected
and envied by all for his knowledge and wives, but who is in fact incredibly
shallow and very lonely. His love for Gong Li brings out all of his best
instincts as he is willing to sell himself as a menial laborer to be near
her and is willing to risk his life to save her. He makes himself into
the man she thinks he is.
Then throw in a splendidly funny and excellent
performance from one of my favorite actresses from the 1960's - Cheng Pei
Pei - who also gets to show she still has some kung fu moves left - and
I could not have been happier. And I have not even mentioned how stunning
Gong Li is! This ranks very high on my list of Stephen Chow films.
My rating for this film: 8.0
Distributed by Mei Ah
The transfer is decent - some speckling
but generally clean and crisp.
Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks
The subtitles are burnt on Chinese and English
There is no menu - which of course means no
extras and no chapters
I had no trouble reading the subs.